AA is not a feel-good program
How are you feeling?
That is a loaded question. Instead, the better question might be, “How are you doing?”
When we were out there drinking and drugging, our response to either one of those questions was always “good” or “great.”
The honest answer was that we had no idea how we were feeling. So as soon as an uncomfortable or even satisfied emotion arose, we masked it with a diversion called drinking, drugging, shopping, gambling, working, womanizing, striving for accolades, or fill in the numbing blank.
And this is where the circle of abuse began and ended; feel bad and drink. Drink more because we feel bad that we drank, Rinse, and repeat.
This is also where the circle of behavior can begin again if we are not purposefully conscious of our emotions and how we respond.
The width and depth of the emotional sphere are beyond our complete comprehension. Some in academia and professionals comprehend this at a much higher level. Today, science is still working to define the scales of emotions. A Berkley study suggests 27 core categories, and other research concludes thousands of emotional variants.
The purpose of this post is not to figure out the spectrum but to recognize that feelings and emotions should not be the driver in our quest to get or remain sober.
The conversation started when we observed this statement on social media: “Your thoughts and feelings are valid - act on them.” We concurred that nothing could be further from the truth. And acting on feelings alone produced most of the negative results in our lives.
The fact is that feelings are not necessarily facts, and we usually find ourselves in trouble when we make decisions based on feelings.
Broaching one’s emotions can be frightening. But fear not, as understanding, accepting, and processing emotions for what they are is a challenging yet advantageous life skill.
Our experience laid out the following sequence to protect ourselves from feelings run amok:
Education’s always a great place to start. There is no shortage of learning tools available to us in this day. Invest in yourself. Advance yourselves by understanding what categories, elements, and interactions move a person from feeling to action.
Search the internet for answers to the following questions:
This exercise draws us closer to understanding emotions and how they tick. The list above is just a conversation starter. We allowed ourselves an hour or more to do a deep dive into emotions and feelings and how they affect us as humans.
Armed with information, we can begin to grow through sense.
Once somewhat knowledgeable about the fundamentals of the complexities involved, we have to come to an understanding of how emotions play in our own lives. For example, what were our emotional drivers? Fear, anger, happiness, or joy?
We had to get in touch with what emotion was in play at any given time—becoming consciously aware when a feeling was arising.
We admit that we were emotional teenagers when our process of maturity (sobriety) began. We had to learn to differentiate between feelings. For so long, we didn't know what we were sensing. What we do know is that most sentiments are subjective in nature. Your happiness is not the same as my happiness.
Understanding means getting to a place where we are conscious of our emotions and reactions. At this point, we can decide whether to act on that emotion or not.
Now that we know what emotions and feelings are and how they work within, we need to understand them in us. We expect that sensations will arise. We should now learn to identify what they mean to us personally and concisely be aware of how we have responded to them historically.
First, we accept them for what they are. They are feelings, not facts. They are our interpretations and, therefore, subjective.
Next, accept that we can’t, early on, control our initial thoughts or responses to a person, place, or thing. Learning this is transformational as the battle within calms and dissipates with acceptance. The “why am I angry” question becomes. “I am angry; what do I do with that anger?.”
Process in the moment.
We needed to come to the point of appreciation of how we are wired - Where thoughts were coming from and what our go-to responses are.
Accepting is just the beginning for us. We have found that we must embrace the emotion – acknowledging and naming the feeling grants us better footing to move forward.
When fear arises, we need to pause and grip that sensation to defend against a dangerous reaction. But, as necessary, is that we will require that connection later.
Adopting this behavior change takes time to perfect but is necessary for recovery. It is a learned habit, and patience is required.
Important to note that this process will initially seem so uncomfortable that one might discount the reward for the effort. This brings us back to our point: AA is not a feel-good program – it is a get-good program.
A term we use lovingly is “Learn to suffer better.” Just accept it for what it is. For example, going to the gym or going for a hard run produces pain but also has beneficial results.
This is usually a process that we can handle on our own. But when feelings overwhelm, we look for outside counsel:
This is not always feasible but essential for big emotions. We can’t read our labels, so we check our status with our sponsor or another trustworthy source. Most important, we find someone who will be honest and guide us through feelings toward facts.
Our history has proven that when emotions rage, it is best to step away and talk it through with another individual who understands our sobriety, as we have prioritized it, and can “talk us off the ledge” of feeling and help us to solid ground.
We can't just sit on the couch and pontificate on our mental health. We have to move forward.
We energize to “the next right thing” -- regardless of how we feel, we now know how to proceed, and it is usually proactive and not reactive.
To get better, we act better.
Over TIME this all gets easier, we promise. So, educate, accept, embrace, reach out, and respond accordingly. Easy Peasy!
“My best living is done when I consciously know that what I'm doing is right, and I'm OK with that regardless of how I feel.” Anonymous.
So, now the program drives our actions; purpose drives our life.
Here are the remarkable facts. 1) Doing the right thing might not feel right at the time.2) Embracing a recovery path - doing the next right thing produces the right results.
We have learned that AA is not a feel-good but a get-well program!
We have also found that staying plugged into AA meetings provides unmatched emotional guidance in the “real world.” And that learning how to respond to our emotions is an ongoing process that we hope you embrace.
So, “How are you doing?”
Thoughts and ideas for this blog post were taken and built upon from a sober.coffee podcast titled #E17 Feelings are Not "Facts" !!....The podcast dropped on 76/28/2021. Click here to hear the podcast.
Alcoholics Anonymous and AA are registered trademarks of Alcoholics World Service. Inc. References to AA, the 12 steps, and 12 traditions does not mean that AA has reviewed or approved the contents of this publication nor that AA agrees with the views expressed herein. This publication is intended to support personal growth and should not be considered a substitute for healthcare professionals' advice. The author’s advice and viewpoints are their own.